Cricket Ireland has defended the absence of star bowler Josh Little from next week’s Lord’s Test against England, declaring that the match is not “a pinnacle event”.
The 23-year-old left-arm seamer is one of Irish cricket’s hottest properties and landed a deal worth more than £400,000 with Gujarat Titans in this year’s Indian Premier League.
But he will be conspicuous by his absence when his country play only their second Test against England, having requested a break.
Little’s sabbatical follows his busy schedule in limited-overs cricket.
Champions of Test cricket will see that as a worrying signal at a time when the most prestigious form of the game is being squeezed from all sides by franchise tournaments, but for Ireland the matter is more clear-cut.
The World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe in June and July is a clear priority for the visitors, who are looking to qualify for the World Cup in India later this year, and takes precedence over a standalone showpiece at the home of cricket.
Cricket Ireland high performance director Richard Holdsworth explained: “What we have to understand is that while we are incredibly proud to go and play against England at Lord’s… it’s a special occasion, but it’s not a pinnacle event.
“Going to a World Cup Qualifier where only 10 teams can qualify for the World Cup, that is still the biggest priority in the game as far as we’re concerned.
“Josh has been on the road for the best part of five months, that in itself is very tiring physically and mentally.
“Josh asked us initially if he could have a period of rest ahead of the World Cup Qualifier. Our management team and selectors discussed the issue in detail and were amicably in agreement that it was in the best interests of Josh and the team.
“We’ve made it very clear at the beginning of our last strategy that our pinnacle events would be white-ball cricket. A member [of the International Cricket Council] with the funding we’ve got simply cannot commit to three formats of the game, it’s financially impossible.”
Holdsworth also suggested that Little’s steady diet of Twenty20 cricket in recent times may have meant he was undercooked for the rigours of a Test match.
“Bowling four overs is not good enough to prepare any cricketer to play Test cricket, where he could be bowling 20-plus overs a day in two innings,” he said.
“We didn’t feel physically he was actually going to be ready for that having had no preparation.”
With more domestic leagues than ever before and a lack of financial muscle to match them, Ireland could face further tricky decisions if their first-choice players attract franchise deals.
That is a fact not lost on Holdsworth, who added: “This is a whole new world to us and the players, it’s absolutely going to challenge everybody.
“All our players who’ve played franchise cricket have learned a lot about how we balance that and being the best they can be for Ireland, but it is a challenge.”
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